Kent v. Dulles, 357 U.S. 116 (1957)

2012-07-20 09:46:13

The Supreme Court’s decision in Kent v. Dulles established the right to travel abroad as a liberty protected by the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment. The case involved two passport applications that the Secretary of State, acting under statutes authorizing the President to regulate the issuance of passports, had denied on the basis of applicants’ alleged affiliations with the Communist Party. In a five-to-four decision, the Court concluded that the Secretary was not authorized to adopt regulations that, in effect, denied passports to citizens on the basis of political belief and associations.

Because the petitioners’ passport applications involved the exercise of a constitutionally protected activity, the Court applied a narrow rule of construction for the powers delegated to the Secretary of State. Accordingly, it concluded that without an explicit provision articulated by Congress, it was impermissible for the Secretary to use political belief and associations as a standard in restricting citizens’ freedom of movement. With this conclusion, the decision did not address the constitutionality of the particular restrictions involved in the case. Allegiance to the United States and applicant’s participation in illegal activity were recognized as valid grounds for refusing a passport. However, neither was found to be relevant to this case.

Kent established travel abroad as a constitutionally protected activity and became the basis for subsequent decisions involving regulation of passports and travel to certain countries. However, later cases emerging in the context of international crises upheld the President’s authority to restrict international travel in accordance with foreign policy interests.


References and Further Reading

  • Laursen, Thomas E., Constitutional Protection of Foreign Travel, Columbia Law Review 81 (1981): 902–931.

Cases and Statutes Cited

  • Kent v. Dulles, 357 U.S. 116 (1957)

See also Aptheker v. Secretary of State, 378 U.S. 500 (1964); Due Process; Freedom of Speech: Modern Period (1917–Present); Haig v. Agee, 453 U.S. 280 (1981); Right to Travel